Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
All right. Good afternoon. Everybody is awake? Just checking.
**Secretary-General — Corruption
As the General Assembly holds a special session against corruption today, the Secretary-General delivered a video message at the launch of the anti-corruption GlobE Network that took place in Vienna, in Austria. He told the participants this morning that corruption is not only immoral, but it is a serious crime. He said that corruption betrays people and democracies. Turning the tide against corruption is essential if we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), promote peace, and protect human rights, he asserted.
The Secretary-General welcomed the creation of the Global Operational Network of Anti-Corruption Law Enforcement Authorities — or GlobE Network — as a step in the right direction. He added that the Network will enable law enforcement authorities to navigate legal processes through informal cooperation across borders, helping to build trust and bring those guilty of corruption to justice.
The Network is a secure platform for information exchange and informal cooperation that will empower countries to connect anti-corruption authorities with their counterparts across the globe for faster, more efficient prosecution of corrupt networks and practices. This Network is established under the auspices of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and the Network is open to anti-corruption law enforcement authorities in all UN Member States and States parties to the UN Convention against Corruption.
**Latin America and Caribbean
And just to note that yesterday, the hurricane season in Latin America and the Caribbean officially began and it is expected to be an intense one. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the Latin America and the Caribbean region is working with resident coordinators in the Caribbean and Central America and with the wider humanitarian community to prepare for this season.
Technical work is being carried out in the fields of planning, information management, humanitarian financing, as well as civil-military coordination — areas that are most crucial during an emergency response.
A focus of the preparedness work will also include identifying and working alongside local organizations.
Given the ongoing pandemic and the surge in numbers across the region, preparations also include remote support.
To give you some context, the US National [Oceanic] and Atmospheric Administration is projecting 13 to 20 named storms in the Atlantic, including three to five major hurricanes. Between 2016 and last year, some 27 million people were impacted by storms and flood-induced disasters in the region. This is a more than sixfold increase compared with the previous five years (2011-2015).
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s Trial Chamber II issued an order today cancelling the commencement of trial in the Ayyash case, which was to start on 16 June. It also suspended all decisions on filings presently before it, and on any future filings, until further notice.
That order was in response to the Registrar’s filing on 1 June, which notified the Chamber of the severe financial situation currently faced by the Tribunal. The imminent exhaustion of funds will impact the Tribunal’s ability to finance the continuation of judicial proceedings and completion of its mandate unless further contributions are forthcoming this month.
Also on Lebanon, I’d like to add that Joanna Wronecka, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, today held her first round of meetings with Lebanese officials. She met today with President Michel Aoun, the Speaker of the Parliament, Nabih Berri, and the caretaker Prime Minister, Hassan Diab, as well as Acting Caretaker Foreign Minister Zeina Akar.
And at 3 p.m. today, the Security Council will receive a briefing on the situation concerning the [FSO] Safer tanker, which we spoke about yesterday. They will hear from Inger Andersen, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), and Reena Ghelani, from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
As we told you yesterday, we have been explaining to the Ansar Allah authorities that the Safer tanker is a dangerous site, and we need to understand exactly what we’re dealing with before undertaking any major work. As we told you, we’ve had very intensive discussions on this with them over the last 10 days trying to bridge the gaps.
And turning to South Sudan, where Nicholas Haysom, as you know, recently took up his post as Head of the peacekeeping Mission there (UNMISS).
Mr. Haysom said today in a press conference that his clear focus is to prevent subnational violence that is still flaring up in particular places across the world’s youngest country. He will also focus on the UN peacekeeping Mission’s ongoing support for the drafting of a permanent constitution, which is expected to pave the way for elections.
Regarding the violence Mr. Haysom referred to, the UN Mission — together with the African Union, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and other partners — have jointly expressed concern over violence in the Pibor region.
A joint delegation of these organizations visited Pibor earlier this week, and they are worried that this year’s violence could turn into something similar to what happened early last year when thousands of fighters from the Dinka, Nuer and Murle communities attacked villages, killing and wounding hundreds of civilians.
The delegation acknowledged the gradual improvement in the situation but called on the Transitional Government of South Sudan — together with the community leaders in Greater Pibor and Jonglei — to take steps to silence the guns, address root causes of the conflict and protect civilians.
Moving to Somalia, which continues to be battered by a double climate disaster, against a backdrop of decades of conflict and insecurity.
On 25 April, the Federal Government of Somalia, in consultation with the UN, declared a drought, with moderate to severe drought conditions impacting 80 per cent of the country.
Seasonal rains then started in parts of the country in late April and early May, triggering flash flooding that impacted 400,000 people, of whom 101,300 were displaced.
The rains only struck some parts of the country and were largely below average, subsiding in mid-May, but was such that the critical crop planting season has been significantly impacted.
Approximately 2.8 million people across Somalia are expected to face crisis or worse outcomes between April and September 2021, reflecting the deteriorating food security situation in the country.
Humanitarian organizations continue to respond in locations with the highest needs. The 2021 Humanitarian Appeal for Somalia requires $1.09 billion to assist 4 million people but is currently only 20 per cent funded.
And speaking of funding issues on humanitarian programmes, our friends at the World Food Programme (WFP) announced today that 21,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan will no longer receive their monthly food assistance as of July, because of a shortage of funds.
Recent contributions from donors have averted widescale cuts that would have affected a larger number of people, but resources still fall short of meeting the needs of all vulnerable refugees in Jordan.
WFP needs $58 million to continue with food assistance until the end of the year for the half million refugees it supports in Jordan.
**COVID-19 — Mongolia
A quick update from Mongolia, where the UN team on the ground is supporting the Government in its COVID-19 vaccination efforts, prioritizing frontline workers and high-risk people.
To date, Mongolia has received nearly 185,000 AstraZeneca and Pfizer doses from COVAX with the UN’s support in the areas of logistics and preparation.
The COVAX doses are part of the 4.7 million doses that Mongolia has secured to vaccinate everyone over the age of 18.
UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) is helping to build a new central storage facility for vaccines and is also procuring cold chain equipment. The World Health Organization (WHO) has helped train health workers on preventing infections; it has provided intensive care for COVID-19 patients and has also helped plan the vaccination campaign at national and local levels.
**Global Food Prices
I have the Global Food Prices index for the month of May to share with you. According to our colleagues in Rome, at the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), the global food prices rose in May at their fastest monthly rate in more than a decade, even as world cereal production is on course to reach a new record high. The FAO Food Price index in May was 4.8 per cent higher than in April and 39.7 per cent higher than in May 2020.
A surge in the international prices of vegetable oils, sugar and cereals led the increase in the index to its highest value since September 2011.
**World Bicycle Day
And today is a big Day. Do you know what Day it is? It is World Bicycle Day, for those of us who like to get on the saddle. In his message for the Day, the Secretary-General highlighted that bikes are freedom, fun, good for one’s health and good for our one and only planet we have.
The Secretary-General noted that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, cycling was a critical mode of transportation. He pointed out that the crisis has changed transport needs and behaviour, and prompted many cities to rethink their transport systems, with bicycles playing a vital role in offering an economical and non-polluting alternative to cars.
The Secretary-General also stressed that this further embrace of cycling must be accompanied by heightened efforts to improve road safety and integrate the bicycle into sustainable transport planning and design. He called on all the world’s cyclists, whether out for sport, exercise or an errand, to keep those wheels turning.
And there will be an event, I think at 1:45 p.m. in the traffic circle with a number of permanent representatives to mark World Bicycle Day.
**Questions and Answers
I will start… Edie?
Question: Thank you very much, Steph. President [Joseph] Biden’s announced that 75 per cent of unused vaccines from the United States will be given to COVAX. Does the Secretary-General have any reaction?
Spokesman: Thank you, and we very much welcome that move. I think it is very important for wealthy countries, for developed countries to share, as much as possible, with COVAX as… I mean, we’ve been updating you on what we’ve been doing on COVAX and the distribution, but it is far short of what is needed, so we hope that others will follow suit. Thank you.
Célhia, and then we’ll go to Mr. Barada.
Question: Stéphane, talking about COVAX, why is Africa so behind everybody, every country, when it comes to vaccination?
Spokesman: Lack of funds, lack of funding of COVAX, lack of vaccines. I mean, we saw what the US announced today. Others also have given to COVAX. It’s lack of global solidarity, and as the Secretary-General has noted that none of us will be safe until all of us are safe, which means that vaccines need to be within the reach of everyone everywhere.
Mr. Barada, welcome.
Correspondent: Thank you, Steph.
Spokesman: Can you… you can take off your mask so I can hear you.
Correspondent: I’m sorry.
Spokesman: Thank you.
Question: On vaccines, and I wonder whether you have now — since I have asked many times — any math about how many personnel have been reporting vaccination within this building, especially. And I have another technical question, whether the SG is participating in the G7 summit next week or so? [laughter]
Yeah. So, this is… and I have a few questions about Lebanon.
Spokesman: Okay. So, let’s… we will be announcing the Secretary-General’s participation in the G7 officially probably later this week. I don’t have figures to share with you on vaccination. The staff is encouraged to self-report on vaccination. Given… as we’ve said many times here, given that vaccines are available in the tri-state area to anyone at this point, we would expect a very high number of people to be vaccinated, but I don’t have those numbers to share with you.
Question: [inaudible] Is it that you’re not, at the UN, doing this math or…?
Spokesman: No, we have. I just don’t have those numbers to share.
Question: Uh-huh. On the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, I wonder whether you have, or the SG has, any description for this latest episode that this Tribunal…
Spokesman: I mean, I think we… I had a pretty lengthy exchange on this and statement yesterday at the briefing. I mean, the Secretary-General is very much encouraging Member States to contribute. The General As… he’s worked with the General Assembly, I think, to release [$15.5] million for the Tribunal.
It is very important that the Tribunal be allowed to finish its work and given the resources to finish its work to bring justice to the victims in Lebanon.
Question: So, the SG recognizes that the Tribunal hasn’t achieved its mission yet?
Spokesman: It’s… the Tribunal still has work to do, and it needs to be able to finish that work. Okay.
Question: Can… may… sorry…
Spokesman: Just one more, and I’ll come back to you.
Question: The same subject.
Spokesman: Yeah. Go ahead.
Question: So, this Tribunal, specifically, was established to end impunity in Lebanon, and I wonder whether you have the impression that impunity has ended in Lebanon or not.
Spokesman: Look, there… separate things. The Tribunal has been given a mandate. It needs to finish that mandate for the cases that have been referred to it.
On the greater issue of impunity in Lebanon, there’s still some challenges and notably regarding the blast that caused such tremendous damage on a human and property level.
Question: I have one question about Syria and others about Iraq. My first one is about Syria is the deputy coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs, he warned that of the authorization by Security Council for border crossing is not… the… doesn’t happen soon, then there will be a humanitarian disaster as, obviously, aids for millions will be impacted. My question is about alternative plans. Can you tell us about UN’s alternative plans to deliver… [cross talk]
Spokesman: Alternative plans, you mean?
Question: Plans in case Security Council did not authorize…
Spokesman: I mean, there’s only one border, right, between… that allows us to reach those people we need to reach in those areas in Syria. I think the Secretary-General and a number of other senior UN officials have been very clear on the critical need for that border crossing to remain open. If it is not open, it will have a tremendous humanitarian impact on men, women and children who rely on humanitarian aid provided by the UN and our partners on a daily basis.
Question: But is there a contingency plan? Is there an alternative plan?
Spokesman: Listen, we… as always, we… to paraphrase someone I won’t name, but we will work with the cards that we are being dealt. Right? The Secretary-General… the Secretariat does not make the rules. The Secretariat does not issue the mandates. We work under mandates given to us by Member States, by the Security Council, and we’ve made very clear, publicly and privately, of the need for that border to… that border crossing to remain open.
Question: And my second one is on Iraq, is something that President of Turkey, [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, said about for United Nations; it’s about a refugee camp in… inside Iraq that Turkey believes has members of PKK in them. And he threatened to attack the refugee camp, and he said, if the United Nations does not clean it up, we will do it as a UN member… [cross talk]
Spokesman: I haven’t seen those particular comment. What I can tell you is that we’ve always called for all Member States to respect the territorial integrity of Iraq.
Question: This is not territorial integrity. I’m talking about the refugee camp. The President of a country… [Cross talk]
Spokesman: I’m just saying… I… and, of course, it goes without saying that refugee camps are humanitarian… humanitarian installations are protected under international law.
Question: Thank you very much. I was wondering, what is the envoy to Myanmar at the moment doing, and is there any update on her location?
Spokesman: Her location is back in Bern. She’s back in Europe where she’s been working from. She continues to remain in touch with all the relevant parties to push the issue forward.
Question: Thank you. Just a follow-up to the vaccinations of UN employees in the building. The employees who are coming in now on a more regular basis, I think, sometimes once a week, sometimes more, do they have to be vaccinated? Is that mandatory for the people who come in or not?
Spokesman: At this point, it is not mandatory, but we ex… we’re looking at a greater re-opening. There will be a letter from the Secretary-General soon to staff to increase the number of people in the building, and things should be a little clearer at this point.
Okay. Let’s go to our chat.
Question: Steph, a quick follow-up on that.
Spokesman: Yes, ma’am.
Question: When are you expecting that letter?
Spokesman: When the tablet comes down from the Mount, I will be told, and we will then share that with you, hopefully soon. [laughter]
Okay. Mr. Kalbasi, Bahman.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Just a couple of questions about Iran. The Foreign Minister wrote a letter to the Secretary-General talking about the fact that, apparently, the voting rights of Iran has been suspended. A, I want to get confirmation that that is the case, when it happened, and what is the procedure that led to… or how long it takes for a country not to pay their dues to finally have their UNGA (United Nations General Assembly) votes… rights restricted or suspended. But in the letter, he complains that this is… falls under the… beyond the control of the country because of US sanctions and is quite angry about the decision. Can you talk about it a little bit and tell us where this goes from here?
Spokesman: So, they were… the Secretary-General, as he does on a regular basis, writes to the President of the General Assembly. He did so. The Secretary-General wrote such a letter… and… to update him under the countries that have lost their voting rights under article 19 of the Charter. He did so on 28 May, to say that Central African Republic, Comoros, the Islamic Republic of Iran, São Tomé and Príncipe and Somalia fell under article 19. I’m not going to read the article for you, but it’s in the Charter, which I’m sure you have on your desk.
I will say this, that we have been in very intense discussions with the Islamic Republic of Iran on finding a way for them to pay their dues. It is not from lack of trying from either our side or from their side, but as you know, the country falls under a number of bilateral sanctions, which makes it a bit challenging. So, those discussions are continuing in good faith on all sides.
What… but there is a mechanical procedure over which the Secretary-General has no control, that if dues have not been paid and there’s been an arrear of a certain level, as it’s stated in article 19, it is… becomes an automatic procedure.
I will let my colleague Mr. [Brenden] Varma explain that there are ways and Member States vote in the General Assembly that certain countries, despite their arrears, are allowed to vote, but that is a decision by Member States.
Question: Do we know how much Iran owes?
Spokesman: What I can tell you is that, in the letter, which is a public document, right, so the minimum… there is a minimum payment necessary to reduce the amount owed by Member States on their contributions so that they remain below the gross amount assessed for the proceeding of two full years, which is 2019 and 2020. So, the minimum paid… needed to be paid by the Central African Republic is $29,395; by Comoros, $871,632; by the Islamic Republic of Iran, $16,251,298; São Tomé and Príncipe, $829,888; and Somalia, $1,443,640.
All of that is in the document A/S-32/3. As a service to all of you, we’ll send it out electronically, so you all have it. Okay.
Question: But is there a vote that in UN… that could be scheduled for Member States to decide that despite being behind in dues that they will… their voting rights would be re…
Spokesman: There is a procedure whereby Member States can say, even though you didn’t pay, you can have a vote.
Okay. Let’s go to Mr. Tobias Burns. Toby?
Question: Hi. Thanks, Steph. I appreciate it. Just wondering if the UN has a comment on the situation in Nicaragua, where a political candidate has been detained or put under house arrest, reportedly?
Spokesman: Yes. We are very much aware of the recent legal actions that were taken against Cristiana Chamorro, one of the opposition leaders, and that those actions may prevent her from participating in the coming elections. This comes on the heels of a period of tension between the Government and the opposition, and these developments risk worsening the confidence in the upcoming elections.
We’ve also taken note of the electoral reforms passed by the National Assembly of Nicaragua last month and those concerns expressed by some national and international actors on this matter, including the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The Secretary-General encourages broad-based agreement on measures towards credible, participatory and inclusive elections in Nicaragua this coming November.
Question: Sorry, just a quick follow-up.
Spokesman: Yeah. [cross talk]
Question: Are… [cross talk]
Correspondent: Sorry, Iftikhar, go ahead.
Spokesman: No, no. Go… Iftikhar, hold on two seconds. Toby, go ahead.
Question: Just is the UN concerned about not only the electoral process but also the safety of this candidate?
Spokesman: It is incumbent on the Government to ensure her safety, as well as all political leaders.
Question: Can you hear me, Steph?
Spokesman: Go ahead.
Question: Thank you, Steph. The Office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released a letter from five UN experts to the Government of India expressing grave concern over the continuing repression in Indian-occupied Kashmir and cited in particular a case of a Kashmiri activist who was stripped naked and hung upside down in a prison. Any comments from you, from the Secretary-General?
Spokesman: We don’t… obviously, these independent experts are exactly that; they’re independent. The Secretary-General’s position on Kashmir has remained unchanged.
Question: So, Matthias Schmale, our favourite, so, there’s reports that he has been reprimanded by the brass in UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency). Also, I’ve seen footage of wide demonstrations inside Gaza against him. Is it safe for him to come back? And also, what’s his status? Has he been reprimanded, and what’s his story?
Spokesman: I’m not aware of him having been reprimanded. So, I mean, if you want to ask UNRWA, that’s fine. I’m not aware.
He is not in Gaza because his security could not be… and his security and safety could not be guaranteed.
Question: Is that because of the demonstrations and the wide unease about his statement?
Spokesman: I mean, you would have to… I can’t ask… I can’t answer as to the motivation of people who are demonstrating, but it was clear to us that his safety and security could not be guaranteed, obviously, because of demonstrations and other issues.
Correspondent: You can read the signs that they carry.
Spokesman: No, I… listen, you… we can all read the signs. What I’m telling you is that given what… the events that have been going on and what has been said against him that his safety and security could no longer be guaranteed, so he is not in Gaza.
Okay. Let’s see if… go ahead. Ali, and then I’ll go back to the video.
Question: I wonder whether you have any comment that the US additional humanitarian aid to Syria that was announced today by the US Ambassador, 200 million… additional $240 million.
And on Lebanon, there was this… a report about the situation in the country is one of the most severe since, like, 200 centuries [sic]. Does that…
Spokesman: No, I think you’re referring to the World Bank report, which… it was 150 years, yeah… [cross talk]
Spokesman: You know, we have nothing to add to what the World Bank has said. We have been very concerned about the situation in Lebanon for a very long time. We have been very vocal about it ourselves, been through the International Support Group, which the UN is a member of, the lack of political progress, the lack of a government beyond a caretaker government, and the lack of reforms to answer the voices of the Lebanese people, which have been also very vocal.
Question: What’s happening and description that this is something that doesn’t happen in two or more centuries, does that require a special action from the Secretary-General, from the United Nations, from… [cross talk]
Spokesman: No, we have been… I think the international community, represented through the International Support Group from Lebanon, has been speaking with one voice, has been saying, we are here to help Lebanon. But the political leaders in Lebanon also have a responsibility to come together, form a government, and answer the needs of their people.
Syria, I haven’t seen that particular report, but obviously… and I don’t know where… through… where this… through which mechanism this aid will be channelled, but we, obviously, welcome any additional funding for humanitarian operations. Our humanitarian operations, across the board, are basically underfunded, so any funds to help our underfunding would be welcome.
Okay. Mr. Varma, your turn.